Cooking Abroad

Kue Semprit as Common Culture


I was raised in Pendopo, a village in Talang Ubi Regency, Muara Enim District (now Pali Regency) in the 1970s. This area has long been known as an oil, natural gas, and coal producer, commodities that attract the attention of a lot of local and international private sector companies. These companies drill and mine there, so the area has prospered; the companies even have built housing for their employees.

One of best childhood memories there is of kue semprit. At Lebaran, the Indonesian name for Idul Fitri, my parents would take us to visit their friends and colleagues, who would all have one or two cookie jars full of kue semprit, along with an assortment of other popular holiday cookies, such as nastar, putri salju, kastengel, or kue kacang. The kue semprit served came in all kinds and shapes and flavors. Some were plain butter cookies, while others were flavored with vanilla, chocolate, cheese, coconut, pandan, orange, or some combination of those tastes, while others had chocolate sprinkles or chunks, or cherries or nuts on top. Some came in the shape of roses, both small and large, while others were as long and roundly narrow as a pointer finger.

When my mother took me shopping to Pasar Cinde Palembang in preparation for holiday festivities, I only had eyes for the kue semprit packed in big bags or cookie jars and looking like beautiful dahlia blossoms that were on display to lure buyers. In later years, I would find the same kind of enticing array of kue semprit at Pasar Agung in Depok, West Java. This just goes to show how well liked these cookies are and how long lasting their popularity has been. They are certainly as popular as the currently trendy rainbow cakes.

They are certainly one of my favorite cookies and always delight my children’s taste buds. The flavor we most enjoy is coconut, like the kind my grandmother used to make. I don’t know why, but there has always been something enticing about the scent of the kue semprit from my grandmother’s recipe, though the ingredients she used were certainly not as expensive or fancy as those produced and sold commercially today. The only topping my grandmother’s kue semprit cookies ever had was strawberry jam.

Perhaps the aroma of my grandmother’s cookies was due to their being baked in an open hearth. Or maybe because of the fresh ripe coconut she picked from her garden for grating and mixing with water to press out rich flavorful coconut milk.

What is certain is that the coconut milk now sold in cans falls far short of the fresh coconut milk grandmother used. Or perhaps the extraordinary flavor of my grandmother’s kue semprit simply resulted from the way she combined the simple ingredients she had to make them. Or maybe, my children simply enjoy them so much because their tastes run toward healthy treats, having not been “contaminated” by the flavors of mass produced burgers, chips, black forest cake, or packaged, assembly-line cookies. Whatever the reason kue semprit cookies are an enduring favorite in my family.

So when Fatmah Bahalwan, a caterer who runs a Natural Cooking Club, which offers cooking classes, shared a recipe for kue semprit with me, I was delighted of the chance to take a journey back to the tastes of my childhood again.

It doesn’t take a lot of energy to make kue semprit. The main requirements are a pastry bag with a spout for pressing the cookie dough, which has a thicker consistency than that of macaroon dough, and a thumb to press indentations into the tops of the cookies.

After some experimentation, I have also been able to make kue semprit worthy of my grandmother with non-gluten ingredients, although the texture is not quite the same as that of her cookies. I somehow thing this would make grandmother proud and happy if she were still living.

And, I have continued trying to get that perfect texture. In one of my experiments, I tried blending dried grated coconut into the dough. Another time, I tried frying dried grated coconut and grinding it into a paste. For my third experiment, I used a combination of dried grated coconut that I ran through a blender with 65% concentrated coconut milk from a can, along with a bit of coconut essence to enhance the flavor. The flavor resulting from experiment number three was much closer to that of my grandmother’s kue semprit cookies, even though not quite the same.

Well, I guess that what is most important is that I have tried. Isn’t it true that there is nothing ever truly perfect in this world? Yet, even so, I am convinced that if I keep cooking, my efforts will, at the very least, be appreciated. The proof of this; kue semprit cookies are my children’s favorite snack.